If no one opens your marketing emails, your entire marketing campaign will grind to a halt. All of your conversion landing pages, product demos and high-value content depends on a chain of events that, in many cases, begins with prospective customers opening messages in their inbox.

Email open rate represents the percentage of recipients who open an email, compared with the total number of recipients. The higher your open rates, the greater your opportunity for converting customers.

Why is it important to have a high email open rate?

Many marketers look at email open rate as one of the most important metrics to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns. A high open rate can tell marketers several things about a specific email:

  • The subject line was attention-grabbing.
  • The preview text — or preheader text — was engaging.
  • The email was correctly targeted to the right audience segment.
  • The email wasn’t blocked by spam filters.

Keep in mind that email open rate only tells a part of the story. As with all analytic endeavors, it’s important to monitor several metrics to get the whole picture. For example, if an email has a high open rate but a low click-through rate, it may indicate that the body text isn’t as engaging as the subject line.

Average email open rates

So, what is a good open rate for an email? There’s no short answer to this question because it ultimately depends on several factors. Your industry can impact your open rates, for example, as can the type of email. We’ll explore all of these considerations in turn:

B2B vs B2C

Willingness to open marketing emails only varies slightly when comparing B2B and B2C segments. According to the 2019 Email Benchmarking Report from the Data & Marketing Association (DMA), B2B emails have an average open rate of 20.8%, while B2C messages average 21.9%. The narrow difference between the segments shouldn’t be much of a surprise. After all, outside of working hours, everyone is a B2C target.

Average email open rates by industry

Investigating average email open rates for your specific industry will give you a better idea of how to set your expectations. According to Mailchimp’s October 2019 benchmarking data, government-related emails had the highest open rate, at 28.77%.

Notable industry highlights from Mailchimp’s data include:

  • Business and Finance: 21.56%
  • Consulting: 20.13%
  • Creative Services: 21.39%
  • E-Commerce: 15.68%
  • Hobbies: 27.74%
  • Pharmaceuticals: 18.58%
  • Professional Services: 21.94%
  • Real Estate: 19.17%
  • Retail: 18.39%
  • Travel and Transportation: 20.44%

Using an industry benchmark is a good place to start when reviewing your own campaign data, but it’s not the only number that should influence your decision-making. Always consider your own historical data and take a look at how you’re improving over time. A positive trend means that your daily efforts are adding value to your email marketing strategy.

Different types of emails have different open rates

The intent of each of your emails will inevitably impact its open rate. Some emails are just more exciting than others. For example, Experian reported that welcome emails have a very high average open rate of 57.8%. Typically, recipients receive welcome emails immediately after signing up for a newsletter or other type of mailing list. In many cases, these emails contain confirmation links that users need to click to gain full access to their account.

Transactional emails have a high open rate for a similar reason. Mailgun reports that transactional emails have an average open rate between 80-85%. People usually receive them immediately after making a purchase. There’s a high incentive for recipients to verify the information inside transaction emails, and people may need to refer to them multiple times.

Promotional emails receive average open rates — around 21.33%, according to Mailchimp — but this number increases when the messages are personalized. GetResponse reported that emails containing personalization in their subject lines have a slightly higher open rate of 22.63%.

When analyzing your own data, you should consider tracking metrics based on each email’s commercial intent. A strategy that works for your welcome emails may not translate to your promotional emails. Considering all the factors that could potentially impact your open rates will help you define which tactics are best to use for every marketing email you send.

What can you do to improve your email open rates?

Improving your email open rates will have a downstream impact on your other marketing efforts. An increase in the number of times people open your messages means you’ll have more opportunities to impress them with high-value content.

Whether you currently have a low open rate or you’re just looking for ways to optimize your marketing emails, consider this advice for improving your metrics:

Create attention-grabbing subject lines

An email’s subject line is one of the few things within your control that can influence email open rates. For that reason, you shouldn’t settle for email headers that are “good enough” — you should brainstorm several headlines rather than using the first thing that comes to mind.

Try to grab your readers’ attention by using headlines that are sure to pique their interest. Headlines should seek to evoke an emotion, provide immediate value or ask a thought-provoking question. Believe it or not, there is a science to crafting the perfect headline for your audience. In fact, we tested 23 methods for writing the perfect headline, and the results were compelling.

Use provocative preview text

After the subject line, an email’s preheader text is your last chance to convince your recipients to open the message. Depending on the email clients used by your readers, they may see between 30 and 140 characters of your preview text. That means you need to frontload the most impactful words in your message. For example, use an action word at the beginning of the preheader rather than anywhere else in the sentence:

  • Do: “Get 10% off your purchase when you spend more than $100 during our summer sale.”
  • Don’t: “When you make a purchase of more than $100 during our summer sale, you’ll get 10% off.

Always check to make sure that your subject line and preheader text are aligned. Grab the reader’s attention with the subject line, then encourage them to open the message with your preview text.

Ensure your emails are deliverable

Email deliverability is the likelihood that your messages will reach a recipient’s inbox, get routed to their spam folder, or simply bounce back to you. A number of factors can impact your deliverability, and it’s essential to be aware of everything that could limit your ability to reach your customers.

Here are a few things you can do to ensure your emails are delivered:

  • Manage your email list. Routine cleaning of your email lists will ensure that you don’t send mail to inactive subscribers. For example, you should remove addresses that frequently bounce messages back to you. In addition, make sure you have an email authentication policy for your outgoing emails to further improve email deliverability, for example, a DMARC lookup tool.
  • Check for compliance issues. All email marketing must comply with national and international regulations. If any of your recipients are EU residents, you’ll need to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation. When sending mail to U.S. residents, the CAN-SPAM Act applies.
  • Use correct grammar and spelling. Most spam filters look at poor grammar and spelling as a risk signal. The same goes for uncommon formats, such as subject lines written in all caps.

Write high-value content

When your recipients find value in your messages, they’re more likely to open subsequent emails from you. High-value content contains information that is immediately useful to your readers. That might include personalized offers, a preview of a larger asset like an eBook or exclusive promotions.

Measuring your open rates and click-through rates will help you understand whether or not your customers see the value of your messages. You may also want to adjust the frequency of your emails if you’re seeing a lot of inconsistency in your analytics.

Make your emails mobile-friendly

According to the 2019 Litmus Email Client Market Share report, users open most emails (41.9%) in a mobile email client. The report indicated that Apple iPhones and iPads are the most popular platforms, owning a combined 37.7% of the market, with Android devices in third place, holding 2.3% of the market.

You can optimize your emails for mobile by using shorter subject lines and preview text, as well as making your body copy easy to skim. Short paragraphs and images with small file sizes are essential for an engaging mobile user experience. In addition, your CTAs should be easy to identify and clickable, or, in this case, tappable. A colorful button with energetic call-to-action text will serve in most cases.

Use software to personalize your messages

In recent years, personalization has been a significant trend in almost every area of marketing. There’s a good reason for the popularity of this trend: 88% of US marketers have seen a measurable improvement in campaign performance due to their personalization efforts, according to Instapage.

As we saw above, personalized emails improve open rates the most when marketers personalize both subject lines and body text. A high degree of personalization can be hard to achieve at scale, which is why enterprises depend on automated email marketing platforms to dynamically adjust email content based on information pulled from integrated customer relationship management (CRM) software.

You can also use automation to send your emails at strategic times. According to Campaign Monitor’s 2020 Global Email Marketing Benchmarks, Tuesdays have a higher open rate than any other day of the week. However, Tuesdays also see the highest rate of unsubscribes.

Why is it important to track your email campaign performance?

We’ve focused our attention on open rates here, but there are many other important email marketing metrics to track. Monitoring several metrics in tandem will provide your marketing team with the information they need to continually improve the performance of your campaigns.

Metrics can also show you how your target audience evolves over time. As demographics shift and customer sentiment changes, it’s essential to keep a pulse on how these developments impact your strategy.

Looking for even more advice on optimizing your email marketing campaigns? Check out our collection of the best email marketing tips.

Alexander Santo is a Brafton writer living in Washington. ​He enjoys searching for the perfect cup of coffee, browsing used book shops and attending punk rock concerts.